In Search of the Perfect Rep

Article by Big Les aka Seungmena, MuscleTalk Moderator

Things used to be so simple: move weight from point A to point B, repeat 10 times and grow. Except, I didn't really grow and my joints got awful sore, my sleeping got all out of kilter and I felt like someone was assaulting me with a baseball bat on a daily basis.

The problem was that I was only lifting weights; I wasn't really concerned with how I lifted it as long as the damn thing was moving. Then I got into this lifting malarkey and saw that there is lifting weight and there is training with weights. I also got clued up on the rep, and just how important it really was. The perfect rep became my quest.

What constitutes a perfect rep?

There are a few components. Firstly there is Range or Motion (ROM), which is how much movement is involved in lifting the weight. Secondly there is Effective Range of Motion (EROM), which is how much of that movement actually focuses the stress on the intended muscle or muscle group. Thirdly there is Safe Range of Motion (SROM), which refers to how much of that movement invites an injury and how much doesn't. On top of ROM we must also consider rep speed and rep phases. But let's begin with ranges of motion.

Using the dumbbell flye as our example I will illustrate the perfect rep. The ROM on this exercise is large starting with the dumbbells touching, arms straight, above your chest, then you move your arms in an arc and most people can get their elbows below the level of the bench. However, do we really want to take this movement to the maximum range? Arnold took them low, Ronnie takes them a bit shallower; both are doing them correctly because what they are doing is utilising the effective portion of the movement. They are extending down until the stress of the movement moves off the chest muscle, which is the primary focus of the exercise, onto the front deltoid. Once the stress is no longer being taken mostly by the chest, it is time to move the weight back to the middle.

Moving back up, most people clang the dumbbells together at the top. This is not the most effective thing to be doing even though it is part of our range of motion. The best form brings the dumbbells together and possibly touches them gently but more often than not stops short of this. The purpose of this is to keep the stress on the chest muscle, when the dumbbells touch in the middle you are actually giving your chest muscles a rest.

Next we must consider our SROM. With the dumbbell flye our EROM is the safest range because we are not going so low as to endanger our shoulder because we stop short of maximum stretch in that joint. What we end up with is a movement that looks very much like hugging a large tree. Our elbows are slightly flexed so that they are not overly stressed, we are not touching dumbbells at the top and we are extending out widely enough to fully work the chest, but not so wide that our deltoids take too much strain or that we endanger joints.

Having established our EROM we now have to look at how we move the dumbbell through it. Our ROM demands that we lower it under control because we are stopping short of our fullest movement, and this control means that we are going to be moving at a slow pace so we can feel the full stretch of our chest muscles. Once we reach full stretch we need to move the weight back. Here the temptation is to explode with maximum power, however our range of motion demands a more controlled approach because if we power up with too much force we are not going to be able to stop short of clanging the dumbbells together.

Take each exercise and determine exactly what you are doing to stress the target muscle to the fullest in the safest possible way in order to apply the above approach to other exercises; in fact this can have some unexpected but spectacular results.

Look at the squat: We all know that you go right to the bottom, calves to hamstrings or as close as your physiology allows and then you drive up to full lock out, well that's what most squatters are doing. But if we look closely what we are actually doing is giving our legs a rest at the end of every rep when we lock out. Using the guidelines for our perfect rep we would stop short of full lock out. This makes the reps more continuous taking the rest element out of it. Try it. The pump is incredible, as is the difference in the number of reps you can get (if you watch Ronnie Coleman - The Unbelievable, you will see Ronnie does them this way).

Do this for each exercise in your workout, and you will find that each one has its own pace and manner of execution determined by its effective range of motion. There you have it, a framework for the perfect rep. Find your perfect rep, repeat until you can do no more and there you have the perfect set. String those together to make the perfect workout.